IROQUOIS FALLS - The Sudbury Nickel Barons are likely to be a tired bunch of hockey players when they skate onto the ice at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.
Playing four games in four nights will do that to a team — especially when you toss in bus travel from Sudbury to Cochrane, Cochrane to Kirkland Lake and Kirkland Lake to Iroquois Falls — and the Abitibi Eskimos will be looking to capitalize on that factor.
“Our style at home is really aggressive, pursue the puck and employ good forechecking, spend less time in the defensive zone and finish our checks,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“Playing four games in four nights, either they are in great shape or they are going to be a little tired. At this time of year, the odds are they are going to be a little tired, so let’s take advantage of it.”
Even so, Gagne does not expect Saturday’s game to be a cake walk for the Eskimos — especially given that the Nickel Barons won the first two games in their four-games-in-four-nights stretch.
“I noticed their captain (Khadyn) Butterfly scored a couple of power-play goals last night,” he said.
“It was a tight checking game, obviously, so we are going to have to be aware when he is on the ice.”
The game plan for Saturday night, however, will be more about playing Eskimos hockey as opposed to worrying about what the Nickel Barons are, or are not doing on the ice.
“Basically, we have to play our game,” Gagne said.
“We are implementing things and we have to concentrate on that. We have to take care of our defensive zone and take care of our program … try to perfect it and then go from there.”
Tired, or not, the Nickel Barons 3-0-0-0 start to the season shows they are not a team to take too lightly.
“They have got talent, there is no question about it,” Gagne said.
“Sudbury is a good hockey town and there are a lot of local kids who are playing for them.”
The Eskimos have been working hard this week to put their second-period meltdown against the Gold Miners behind them.
“We had a good practice last night, for sure,” Gagne said.
“We focused on defensive zone coverage, big time. The forwards are going to come and help out. We definitely need to help out our defence.
“As of the second period in Kirkland Lake, that needs to be tweaked a bit.
“We need to move the puck to the forwards, so we worked in the defensive zone quite a bit in practice.”
Some of the newer players in the Eskimos lineup, such as forwards Blake Cudmore and Cameron Etherington — who both made their NOJHL debuts Wednesday night in Kirkland Lake against the Gold Miners — and Daniel Nicholas are being fast tracked as they pick up the system Gagne employs.
“At this time of year, when we have injuries and suspensions, it is hard to give those players a role,” he said.
“For right now, they are just fill outs, fill out here, fill out there. Hopefully, they can comprehend what we want.
“It’s all just the time of the year. We have got to get it together for Saturday.”
The Eskimos will be without defenceman Michael Rancourt and forward Ryan Tront — both of whom are nursing upper body injuries — Saturday night, as well as forward Brenden Locke, who will be serving the second game of a two-game suspension he picked up for his involvement in a fight last Saturday against the Powassan Voodoos.
It is hoped, however, that defenceman Nick Minerva (51, 8-17-25, 63), a New Brunswick, N.J., native who played last year for the Wisconsin Wilderness (SIJHL), will be in the lineup Saturday night.
Prior to joining Wisconsin, the 5-10, 185-pound 18 year old played two seasons with Monroe High, of the USHS.
“He was in training camp out west (Kindersley, Sask.) and he will be flying in tonight,” Gagne said.
“He has good offensive stats, but our emphasis is defence first here.”
Up front, Gagne expects that either Kezmin Madden, or Harrison Jacobs will take Locke’s spot on the top line with Brady Clouthier and Ryan Attwood.
“It really doesn’t matter,” he said.
“We have been switching players here and there. Nothing is carved in stone right now, for lines.”
The Eskimos will likely continue to use at least one defenceman up front on the forward lines, a spot where Jamie Lauzon, captain Kevin Walker and Kealey Cummings have all seen time during the early part of the season.
“Right now, we have no choice,” Gagne said.
“We have two forwards missing.”
Pending the results of their game in Kirkland Lake Friday night, the Nickel Barons were relatively healthy.
“I think everybody is healthy,” said Sudbury coach Jason Young, following the team’s 2-1 win Thursday night in Cochrane.